The Hays Optimists had barely unloaded the 225 Christmas trees from the semi-tractor trailer in the Hays Walmart parking lot on Saturday when Roger Harman drove up and bought the first one.
Bundled up in coveralls and a hoodie against the wicked wind and cold, Optimist Mark Werth helped Harman carry the seven-foot balsam fir to his pick up and load it in.
The two work together at Brungardt Hower Ward Elliott & Pfeifer L.C., and Werth had let Harman know about the eminent arrival of the trees from Wisconsin.
The lot officially opens for sale the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 23
“Last year we were out of town and we missed out,” Harman said, mentioning his wife, Nancy. “We’ll put it up in the living room. All the kids are coming home for Christmas.”
The annual sale is manned by the 21 members of the local club, who put in 170 man-hours the first three days of the sale, said member John Sjoholm.
Trees are first-come, first-serve.
“Last year we sold out in 10 days,” Sjoholm said. Customers come from all around, as far away as Oakley, Ransom and Grainfield. “We even had one Colorado family buy one as they were driving through,” he said.
Trees on sale include Fraser fir, balsam fir, Douglas fir and Black Hills spruce, with sizes ranging from 5-foot to 10-foot, and prices from $25 to $125. The Optimists accept cash or checks. The lot is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends, and 3 to 8 p.m. weekdays.
The tree sale raises $3,000 in proceeds for the Optimist’s youth-related projects, said Nathan Legleiter, the club’s treasurer.
This year some of the money will go to support the planned Hays Arc Park, an accessible recreation complex for children of all abilities.
“We donate all of our money to the youth of Ellis County,” said Sjoholm, including a Toys for Tots project with students at Fort Hays State University, donations for equipment and labor at various Hays parks, Tri-Star Basketball tournament, and many hours of volunteer work for projects like the Sternberg Museum of Natural History’s recent Spooktacular 2018.
The group’s other big fundraiser is a raffle of $4,000 cash over the course of 31 days in January. Ticket are on sale now for $25 each. For the first 25 days in January, the daily winner gets $75. Then the prize slowly increases to $100, $200, $500 and then $1,000 on Jan. 31.
“We only sell 300 tickets,” said Optimist Gary Wentling. “And their name stays in the drawing, so even if they are a winner they always have 31 chances to win.”
Anyone can be an Optimist. Membership is $90 a year, by contacting Ken Beran, president, at 785-623-1438.
“We have everything from bankers and accountants to construction workers and veterinarians,” Legleiter said.
And sometimes even kids.
On Saturday, 10-year-old Carson Pinkney worked alongside the 10 optimists that included his dad, Jeff Pinkney. It was Carson’s second year on the job.
“My dad wanted me to come help unload the trees,” he said. “I moved the trees from the back of the trailer to the front.”